MELBOURNE: World number one tennis player Novak Djokovic was denied entry into Australia on Thursday after initially being granted a medical exemption from the country’s COVID-19 vaccination requirements to play in the Australian Open.
The tennis star, who was left stranded at Melbourne’s Tullamarine airport overnight, was issued a letter by the Australian government saying his visa had been denied and he would be removed from the country. Australia’s border force later confirmed his visa had been revoked.
The Serbian player, seeking a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam win at the Open starting January 17, would file an injunction to prevent him being sent back, the source said. In the meantime, Djokovic was on his way to a Melbourne hotel.
In a dramatic series of events through the Melbourne night, Djokovic touched down at Tullamarine airport Wednesday about 11:30 p.m. local time after a 14-hour flight from Dubai, but was ushered into an isolation room under police guard when Australian officials said his visa did not allow for medical exemptions.
The move by the Australian government threatened to cause a diplomatic incident between Canberra and Belgrade. “I’ve just finished my telephone conversation with Novak Djokovic,” Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic posted on Instagram.
“I told our Novak that the whole of Serbia is with him and that our bodies are doing everything to see that the harassment of the world’s best tennis player is brought to an end immediately. In line with all norms of international law, Serbia will fight for Novak, truth and justice. Novak is strong, as we all know.”
Vucic had summoned the Australian ambassador in Belgrade and demanded that they immediately release Djokovic to play, Serbian media reported.
“Mr Djokovic’s visa has been cancelled,” Morrison tweeted on Thursday. “Rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders. No one is above these rules. Our strong border policies have been critical to Australia having one of the lowest death rates in the world from COVID, we are continuing to be vigilant.”
Melbourne has endured the world’s longest cumulative lockdown and an outbreak of the Omicron variant has sent case numbers to record levels. read more
With just 11 days to go until the Open starts, a legal challenge by Djokovic, who has previously declined to reveal his vaccine status, could see the legal fight go all the way to the high court.
At the heart of Djokovic’s case is that the 408 temporary activity visa that he sought to enter Australia on treats a person arriving with a valid medical exemption equally to one who is vaccinated, the source told Reuters.
Tennis Australia and government officials have previously stressed that Djokovic received no preferential treatment to gain the medical exemption from a panel of health officials.
TA chief executive Craig Tiley said the panel consisted of doctors from the fields of immunology, infectious disease and general practice and all exemptions met conditions set out by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI).
The Australian government had previously pledged to honour the rules of the exemption process. However, when Djokovic arrived on an Emirates flight on Wednesday, he was detained by border officials. Australian media reported that the Border Force claimed he had applied for the wrong visa for a medical exemption.